Once, late at night, during an emotionally tumultuous part of my life I found myself perched in front of my computer, writing a long email to a close friend far, far away. At the time, I had reached what I thought was the lowest point of my breakup with my longtime girlfriend: I lay on the couch reminiscing (sad, but true); eating cheap takeout (so sad, but embarrassingly true) listening to Coldplay, Adele, and Frank Ocean (sad, but…Hey! Fuck you! It was my first breakup. I was allowed to binge on the emotional fodder that the world provides). I was wallowing (hopelessly), rinsing (robotically), repeating (endlessly).
Few things in life held much joy at the time. For long periods at a time my perky nature was buried under a malaise that permeated everything in my life: friends did not know what to do or say around me and my family did not know how to comfort me. My interests seemed mundane and insignificant in the grand scheme of things and their pointlessness was underscored by the recent loss of the person in whom I had anchored my affections. The number of corny and cathartic Thought Catalog essays I read during that time still makes me cringe today.
It was during that vicious cycle of rejection, regret, loss, and desperate attempts to piece back together something that could not be made completely whole ever again that I did some of my most furious writing. I scribbled into journals and notebooks, penned letters to friends in other countries, and sent minor dissertations about the novelty and confusing nature of my emotional pain to people’s email inboxes. On the particular night on which I found myself writing late into the early morning sleep had proven to be elusive yet again and after two hours of churning between my covers I called off the search. I climbed out of bed, turned on my computer, and began composing my email.
I wrote about numerous things in that email. Many of them are redundant now but I do remember writing about hope for quite a bit. While ruminating on the subject matter—on hope, that is—recently with a friend who is going through a particularly challenging time himself I suddenly remembered that email. After wading through his troubles and offering comfort where I could we fell into a defeated silence for a while. Then he took a deep breath, his shoulders fell, and in a resigned voice said, “I really hope it works out.”
My response was equally subdued. “I hope so too, man.”
That was the most I could say. His troubles were unique to his situation and, try as I might, there was little I could do but hope that some small field mouse a thousand kilometres away would be caught be a ravenous kite and set off a karmic chain reaction that would turn my friend’s fortunes around.
So hope I did.
There was more that I wanted to say but the words escaped me. For some reason it was hard to reformulate the exact words I used in that email I had written long ago. Perhaps my past lucidity on matters of hope were fuelled by my experience of the need for it and, now, with better fortunes abound in my life I had forgotten just how desperate one feels when all they have left is hope. Later, after searching through my email archive I retrieved the particular message in which I wrote about hope.
Below is an excerpt of what I wrote.
I only recently realised how often people say things like “I hope this” or “I hope that” to people. For example, I hope that this email finds you rested and loved. I hope that it finds you at peace, or in the process of attaining it. Hope. It’s such a human reflex against the unknown, the unpredictable.
Hope. When you are faced with the vastness of the universe and capriciousness of time all you can do is hope. And so we hope.
We hope for better times, times when we won’t spend our daylight hours worrying about what will be and what won’t. We hope that the next moment will be the proverbial corner that we will round, leading us to good and better things. And when things are not getting better we hope that things will at least change, that the next moment will not be like this. We hope, relentlessly. Predictably.
We hope hopelessly.
But there is a good reason why we hope. Hope fills the spaces between hurt and despair, keeping the two separate. Hope allows you to feel the full brunt of someone’s harsh words, a life situation that is not of your making or your choosing, or the hurt of losing something or someone with no physical or emotional equivalent. Hope allows you to feel as hurt as you can, but it also allows you to realise that the hurt will end at some point. The same goes for despair. You can feel as sad as you want about anything, but, sooner or later, something happens that makes you hope for something better, something different…something that is not…this.
And it is that small ember of “this cannot be it” that makes you move on, and carry on. It makes you get out of bed even if you want nothing more than to lie down and become one with the sleepless oblivion. It makes you put on a brave smile for the new day that will come regardless of how you feel about it.
Hope. It seems to be an occupational hazard of life. I am beginning to respect it more and more, and learning to be kinder to people who have nothing but hope.
I am hoping that you are surrounded by all the people you love, and all the people that love you. I hope that you find peace and understanding. I hope that you can find a refuge from the upheaval of this year, and I hope that your heart heals instead of hardening.
It was a bit of a surprise to me to re-read these old words. They were written by a younger Rémy; they are words from a bygone era, a time and place that will not come around again. While reading them, I tried to recreate my feelings of despair, disconnection, and utter helplessness that prompted their writing and failed dismally. I had gone through my crucible and emerged a bit harder, a bit wiser. I think I could not completely immerse myself in the emotional maelstrom contained within the passage because there was less catharsis this time around: I am not in need of hope like I was back then.
Prior to that experience, I was not a hopeful person. I was a dreamer, a planner, and a doer of things. I found a target, figured out the best way to get to it, rearranged things in my life to allow me to reach it, and, after working diligently towards them, finally reached my goal. My life was a comprehensive cycle of planning, doing, and succeeding. Like the high school Biology diagram showing a simplified and super efficient water cycle starting with evaporation and transpiration and progressing to condensation and precipitation everything in my life was well-oiled, everything flowed into everything else, and everything made sense. There was no room for hope. Hope, for me, was for the unprepared. And I was always prepared. Always.
Since then things have not been as simple or as clear. The certainty I possessed throughout my youth has been steadily tested and eroded by numerous circumstances: the rigours of university and academia; relationships, both social and romantic; various entrepreneurial ventures that have been met with varying degrees of success; and, the constant search for a personal identity as a black African man. There have, of course, been more trying circumstances but these are the most poignant challenges of my young life so far. They have all been marked by the slow erosion of absolute confidence in my way of life, the things that I do and how I do them, and, the unwavering belief that my talents and sheer force of determination can pull me through every single situation that my present and future life will throw at me.
Not for the first time since I entered my twenties I find myself uttering things like “I hope that…” or “Man, if this works out the way I want it to…” All of these are sentences that my younger self would have frowned upon because the uncertainty contained therein would seemingly show some unwillingness to do everything it took to make my desired outcomes came to fruition. The younger Rémy would merely tell me now, with a little disdain, that some goal eluded me because did not work hard enough or that I did not prepare well enough.
But the older me, now entering my late twenties, would absorb the barbs and the criticism in a slightly distracted manner, ooh-ing and aah-ing in a self satisfied way because I know better now.
“It is not that I have stopped preparing for any situation as best I can and it is not that I have lost my passion for pursuing every goal to which I set my mind, kid” I would say. “Rather, it is the gradual realisation, acquired through extremely trying and violent character-shaping circumstances, that hope is the unashamed submission to the various forces of the known and unknown universe. It lies beyond the realm of the most earnest preparation and the most dogged work.”
“And that is how hope operates. Each passing day will show you a fresh and better possibility—a life that could be— and you may set your sights upon achieving it. But, despite your best well-laid plans, there will come a point when you realise that there are things that are necessary to fulfil your chosen goal that are out of your hands. And when that day comes you will hope. You will hope that the person you like responds to your charms; you will hope that your potential employer picks up the phone despite how attractive a prospect you present; you will hope that lump is not malignant. Shit, man, you will hope that this moment right here, this one where the majority of things in your life are going well, continues on for a while because you like where it is heading. You will hope.”
“Or life, as it is wont to do from time to time, will present you with the gaping maw of failure, rejection, and complete, utter loss. And, no matter how strong you fight, no matter how vehemently you reject it, no matter how much you bend your will to the avoidance of some unfortunate consequence, you will still find yourself caught by the whirlpool’s tentacles, with everything slowly spiralling out of control. In those desperate moments the most you can do is lash yourself to the mast and scramble to the nearest shelter. You will find yourself lying in bed offering silent prayers to the universe, begging for pardon, asking for relief. All you will do is hope that the universe glances over you in disinterest and moves on to some other unfortunate target. You will hope, kid. And you will not be the only one. Take comfort in that.”
Cover designed: Rémy Ngamije
Video compilation by: Rémy Ngamije
Soundtrack: Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 3, played by Kevin Macleod.